French social charges on worldwide investment income
On 26th February 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) made a very important ruling concerning the application of French social charges (prélèvement sociaux). These charges are levied to fund certain social security benefits in France, as well as the compulsory sickness insurance schemes.
If you are resident in France, you are required to pay the social charges on all your worldwide investment income and gains and the current rate is 15.5%. However, the payment of these social charges does not actually give you any automatic right to French social security benefits and health cover.
In fact, many early retirees have been refused health cover when their Certificate S1, issued by the UK, has expired, if they have not been resident in France for at least five years. Since having adequate health cover is a condition of French residency, such people have either had to work in France – perhaps even setting up their own business – or they have been obliged to take out private health cover.
It is clear that France considers social charges on investment income and gains as an additional tax, rather than a social security contribution, since the payment does not provide any automatic rights to social security benefits and health cover. However, it is the French Code de Sécurité Sociale, rather than the Code Générale des Impôts, which lays down the conditions under which these social charges are payable in France.
Thankfully, the ECJ has reached a different conclusion. In its determination, the ECJ decided that France’s social charges have a sufficient link with the financing of the country’s social security system and benefits. In addition, there should be no distinction made between those charges payable on earnings and those payable on investment income and gains.
EU Regulation 1408/71 deals with the application of social security schemes to people moving within the European Union. The Regulation provides that people should be subject to the social security legislation of only one Member State (except for very limited situations). To have anything different could lead to unequal treatment between Members States and their citizens, which would be contrary to EU principles.
Therefore, for any French resident who is the holder of a Certificate S1 that has been issued by another Member State, this means that he/she is subject to the social security legislation of the issuing State. As such, the ECJ has ruled that France cannot impose an obligation on the person to pay social charges to France, as this would result in them being subject to the social security legislation of more than one Member State. The ECJ has also ruled that this principle applies whether or not the insured person actually pays social security contributions on the income/gains concerned in the Member State that insures the person.
Since 2012, non-residents have also had to pay the social charges on any French property rental income and on any gains arising when they have sold the French property. There is general opinion now that the ECJ ruling should also bring this to an end, at least for residents who are insured in another EU State.
EU legislation overrides the internal legislation of Member States. Notwithstanding this, we will still need to wait for the French government’s response to this ECJ ruling. Arising out of this, if France accepts the ruling, it will need to amend its own internal codes to ensure compliance with the ruling.
In the meantime, taxpayers can make an application for a refund of social charges paid in 2013 and 2014, by filing a claim with their local tax office before 31st December 2015. In addition, taxpayers may also wish to refer to the ECJ ruling when submitting their French tax returns for this year, if they believe that they are affected.
On the subject of French tax returns, these are due by 19th May 2015, if submitting a paper return or if submitting on-line by 26th May 2015 for departments 01 to 19, by 2nd June 2015 for departments 20 to 49 and by 9th June 2015 for other departments. According to the ECB website, the average exchange rate of Sterling to Euros for 2014 is 0.80612.
For those of you who came to live in France during 2014, then you will need to make your first French tax declaration and declare all your worldwide income and gains. This includes income and gains that might be tax-free in another country, for example, UK ISAs, premium bond winnings and Pension Commencement Lump Sums, which are all taxable in France.
Even if the income is taxable in another country, for example a UK government pension and/or UK property rental income, the amount must still be reported in France and it will be taken into account in calculating your French income tax. You will then be given a tax reduction to take into account the fact that the income is taxable elsewhere.
It is also very important to declare the existence of all foreign bank accounts (whatever the amount in the account) and life assurance policies taken out with companies outside of France. Failure to do so can result in a penalty of €1,500 for each undisclosed bank account. However, if the total value of all unreported accounts is €50,000 or more, then the penalty is increased to 5% of the total value of the accounts, if this results in a greater amount. The same penalties also apply for undeclared foreign life assurance contracts.
Pensions – I cannot pass by without saying something on this. I have personally become so fed up with all of the UK changes that I have now taken the decision to transfer all of my own UK pension benefits into a QROPS. I have chosen the well-regulated jurisdiction of Malta and I feel that I am in control of my own retirement planning again. In short, I feel that I will now have a pension for life and not just for Christmas or for the next session of the UK parliament.
With days to go before the reform takes place in the UK, if you are affected, do you understand what this means for you? If not, would you like to have a confidential discussion with me about your situation?
Pensions is one of the major subjects that we are also covering at our client seminars this year, as well as EU Succession Regulations, French taxation, health insurance and currency exchange. We are already taking bookings for Le Tour de Finance 2015 and this is a perfect opportunity to come along and meet industry experts on a broad range of financial matters that are of interest to expatriates. The local events are taking place at:
Perpignan – 19th May
Bize-Minervois – 20th May
Montagnac – 21st May
Le Tour de Finance is an increasingly popular event and early booking is recommended. So if you would like to attend one of these events, please contact me to reserve your places.
Whether or not you are able to come to one of our events, if you would like to have a confidential discussion about pensions, investments and/or inheritance planning, using tax-efficient solutions, please contact me either by telephone on 04 68 20 30 17 or by e-mail at email@example.com.